Ben Heller wrote:This is my first post and I'm sad to say that my actual experience in practicing permaculture is fairly low but I would love to hear more from you people with actual experience.
Welcome Ben, we are relatively new (i.e. active) participants in the forums although they have been a fantastic resource for knowledge and experience from many kind hearted fellow members over the past 3+ years. It's a great place to ask questions and (in the main haha) people respond kindly even to the daftest of questions. I should
preface all my remarks/comments below by saying that we are not "purist" or "100% committed" or "evangelical" permiculturalists (is that a word?) and we are located not in the US of A but on a tiny smallholding (8,000 sq metres / 2 acres) in rural North Central Bulgaria.
We have only been doing livestock and cultivation for 3 years since we moved here permanently and the guiding principles we work the hardest to keep to are...
All our critters should be treated/encouraged/raised to behave/act/live as "naturally" as possible within the constraints of our property, location and financial resources... skills we have been learning along the way :-)All critters we have have a purpose, one of which is feeding us, but can also include cultivating, weeding, ploughing, pulling, guarding, etc.We do not anthropomorphize our critters, but they are highly respected and treated humanely. In many cases they get a lot of human contact primarily to make it easier to handle them for checking, when feeding, when they are mating, in emergencies, and even more fundamentally getting them to follow us to where we want them to be.Except in the most extreme of circumstances we do not use chemical or pharmaceutical products on our critters, or poisons or chemical fertilisers on our land/property.
We try to learn as much as possible from the local Bulgarian community
we live in - and to contribute what we can to that community while sharing what we are doing (by example, not by preaching).
Ben Heller wrote:I think that pigs are a fantastic animal that has many great uses in a permaculture system but I also feel as though there is also a potential for destruction. Taking ideas Salatin, Mark Shepard, and Sepp Holzer, I would love to find a pig that could turn compost piles like Salatin's do (pigerators), graze brush in the summer (Shepard's pigs with nose rings), fatten up on woodlots, and keep outside in the winter (Holzer) and feed a steady stream of food leftovers from the local high school.
Pigs are indeed an invaluable asset to people who have the space to keep them and use them. They can be destructive if not managed... but destruction is relative depending on what you want achieved by the pigs and what you cultivate/provide for them to thrive on.
Ben Heller wrote:However, at the same time, I do not want a pig that would destroy the landscape with rooting or escape and make a feral population that would destroy the landscape.
We have learned (through our mistakes and ignorance) that destruction of landscaping occurs when we don't manage the pigs to put them on land
where they can be useful instead of destructive. Our first 4 pigs (sows) were used to plough about 7,000 square metres of land that had not been cultivated for at least 10 years. We trained them to electric fencing when they were little and then used electric fence
to move them around the property. At that time we allowed them to graze off all the top growth and then start on the underground
stuff - finding and lifting rocks, concrete
, bricks, etc. that were buried and we picked them out and moved them every day. Eventually we used them to dig out tree stumps after we felled/logged the main trees
You mentioned escaping pigs a couple of times - that is definitely NOT down to the pigs. I would suggest that if you cannot make a safe and secure external (main) boundary to your property - don't have any critters/livestock at all. 60% of our property has a 1.8m high concrete/brick wall, 30% has 2m chainlink fence
with a single strand of barbed wire against foxes and cats, and 10% is a 2.5m high concrete, stone and steel panel wall of one of our neighbours. Without a secure and well maintained external boundary we couldn't realistically have any livestock, poultry or dogs. BTW internally our paddocks are fenced to 1.25m using concreted in posts but, remember that a 250kg pig can walk through a wooden railing if ever they really want to :-)
Pigs don't grow nose rings naturally - they don't need them and so they were not built-in. If you want your pigs to work for you then you should try to allow them to do what they do best, naturallyPigs definitely graze anything that is green - and they will eat anything above ground that is palatable for them.When that top green is gone, they will start digging, looking for roots and tubers, bugs and grubs.When that has all gone they will then dig deeper in search of food if there is none.AND they will dig wallows because they need them to protect their skin (and maybe even because they just like it)
Ben Heller wrote:A lot of these traits contradict each other...if one were to put nose rings in, it would prevent rooting and encourage grazing but at the same time it would not allow them to turn up compost. I'd love to have a hardy pig that would require minimal care in the winter, but I do not want them to escape and create a problem for neighboring farms and forests.
In winter weather our pigs have exhibited "pig behaviours". They eat snow instead of drinking water
; they like hay/straw nests to sunbathe on winter sun days; they make nests in their houses/shelters if they have enough straw
or hay or other bedding that they can gather from their location
Ben Heller wrote:Is there a perfect ... way of training pigs to achieve all of these goals?
I personally don't believe that you need to train a pig "to achieve all of these goals". A pig will do what it does naturally in most cases if it is allowed to. You need to decide what you want them to do and then enable and manage it. We have only ever "trained" our breeding pigs to:
Come to our callCome to a feed bucket/treatStand or lay down for checking their bodies
And as for discipline, if they nip our fingers when hand feeding they get a smack; a 200+kg pig can still break your toe if they want a rub and a nuzzle (not their fault); our boar can tear through 3 layers of trousers and puncture our thighs with his tusks just because he is rubbing up on you for affection. But we have slept with farrowing sows in -14C and with our juvenile boar in winter for a temperature test experiment. They let us pull open their jaws, check their teeth, check/clean feet if necessary, take anal temperatures and stuff like that. Our boar also allows us to be with him during mating, which allows us to intervene if the boar is too rough or the sow is not 100% receptive.
Ben Heller wrote:Is there a perfect breed?
I'm sure that there are many US based experts in the forum with various opinions who can recommend breeds to you. Our boar is an East Balkan Black x Landrace
, our remaining breeding sow is a bog standard commercial grade Bulgarian White (even though she is black).
Ben Heller wrote:What is the best type of mobile fencing?
We used electric tape on a battery powered energiser, one low tape about 15cm off of the ground and another about 40cm off of the ground. Depending on the power of your energiser you may have to brushcut under the bottom tape to avoid shorting out the power.
Ben Heller wrote:What are some inexpensive ways to keep pigs over the winter?
I can't imagine what you think is expensive and how that compares to what I think is expensive :-). Our juveniles - 2 years old, 250kg - get:
2.5kg of hard feed every day from first frost to last frost (mid November to late March). That hard feed costs me 6 euros for 20kg.We have a pregnant sow at the moment - she gets 5kg of hard feed per day and that will go up depending on how many piglets she is feeding.AND/OR whatever free/cheap veg I can get from a market gardener we know.AND/OR boiled veg and potatoes at night (we grow/harvest/store fodder beets, sugar beet, radish, jerusalem artichokes, field peas and white beans for over winter feed for pigs and poultry).PLUS half a bale of lucerne/alfalfa or hay each a few times a weekPLUS at least a dozen boiled eggs each per week - we keep chickens and ducks primarily to provide regular supply of eggs for us, our dogs and our pigsPLUS meat scraps, offal and bones from household consumption or on-site slaughtersWe try to rotational graze our pigs through about 4,000 square meters (one acre) during the year and also re-green their paddocks during the year and especially before winter sets in.
Ben Heller wrote:The climate I am working from is Central Minnesota where temperatures drop to below -20F and rise to up to 90F.
Our annual temperature range is from -20C to +40C. Our pigs live in 3 sided open shelters
in all weathers and when left to their own devices prefer to sleep outside in straw/hay/leaf/branch/weed nests unless it is very high winds or in the height of summer when they need some shade.
A final recommendation is to visit and spend as much time as you can reading on Walter Jefferies website: Sugar Mountain Farm
. Walter has many years of experience that he shares very freely - and I have found that a great deal of his practical advice can easily be applied even to a very small pig enterprise like ours. And his insights into pig behaviour have been incredibly helpful to me. He is a regular here in the forums too.
Ben, I don't know if any of the above is useful to you or informative for your situation, but I am very happy to share it with you. I am sure that there are many other US based pig keepers who's experiences match your situation and I sincerely hope that they join the conversation.
I wish you the very best of luck with your pigs!!